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The Two Captains


2C Update #116
Reaching Tahiti by Captain Don -- July 2, 2004

After almost 3 months and a little over 4000 miles we have finally arrived in Tahiti . This IS the South Pacific. Regardless of who you talk to -- of any age, race, sex or country -- mention the South Pacific and they most generally will think of Tahiti .

After two days at sea from the Tuamotus, the legendary island came into sight through thinly-scattered clouds backlit by a full moon. It was 0300, and we were approaching our GPS waypoint some 20 miles in front of us, just 10 miles from our planned anchorage. Although we had to slow slightly so as not to arrive at the pass entrance before day light, there was a lot of excitement on board. And why not - This is Tahiti , for God's sake. When you are from a small town in the Midwest , Tahiti conjures up pirates, Captain Bligh, Mel Gibson, and lots of young, smiling, grass-skirted, dancing, bare-breasted native girls.

As it got closer to dawn, we got closer to the island and our two companion boats, Danseuse de la Mer and Ocean Girl. I had shut my eyes to think of the island we were approaching and what it meant to me (well, that and I had yet to go to bed after my night watch). I could smell the land, and I could ACTUALLY hear the ukuleles and the voices of the dancers on the beach. It was at that moment I opened one eye to realize Gwen had tuned to a local radio station and the local DJ was doing the "Top Ten Tahiti Countdown" for the week. But you COULD almost hear them dancing, really.


So, a while later we were finally approaching Papeete , the main city on Tahiti . The sun was up between the horizon and low-hanging clouds while the full moon was setting behind the craggy skyline of neighboring Moorea, and we were a group of three sailboats all lined up like a row of ducks ready to go in through the main pass. Like the atolls of the Tuamotus, Tahiti has a encircling reef enclosing a lagoon, but unlike the atolls, the volcanic island that formed it has no yet sunk into the sea. Gwen was working on the French for the upcoming radio call to the Port Captain for permission to enter, Ocean Girl was to maneuvering to get behind somebody to follow in (as their computer had crashed along with all their detailed charts of the channel,) and De le Mer just wanted in to "park", as they had been hand steering since their autopilot got ripped from its mount the previous afternoon. Before we knew it Ocean Girl called and got permission for us to enter in perfect English (Sorry Gwen, maybe next time). We were assigned to follow a four-masted cruise ship through the main markers. With a cruise ship to follow, Ocean Girl no longer needed us as a leader, and since the cruise ship still looks to be just off Moorea, we proceeded leisurely to the pass, but before we closed the mile, the big guy was across, in and docked! Out of the starboard corner of our eye (that's to the right for you landlubbers) there were two large power catamaran-type ferries headed right at us putting up "rooster tails". We may have supposed to go next, but we opted to allow them to go ahead of us, since ferries usually follow the "might is right" rule of the road. This was a busy place!

As we finally entered the pass and headed for the first set of markers close to the shore, we were in fact greeted with a bunch of natives in long outrigger canoes paddling hard right at us. HOWEVER, they were not filled with the afore-imagined smiling young natives bearing gifts of fruit and flower leis, but a bunch of burly guys working out in the new ultra light, modern, fiberglass outriggers that we have seen on almost every island since the Marquesas. Practicing for the next "outrigger Olympic, no doubt. We had to almost stop to let them all get by us in one direction or the other.


When that crowd cleared, we headed for the next set of markers that showed us the channel. Even in the early morning light the shoals and the fringing reef were easy to see and avoid. (Sorry, Gwen, you can use the fancy electronic charts next time.) Next we came upon a big white sign, in French, telling us to call for permission to pass this point if your mast is higher than 3 meters (9 feet) !?! Well, yeah, our is about 26 meters so Ocean Girl called and got permission for our flotilla (again in perfect English; sorry, Gwen). Just moments after the third boat had gone by, we saw the first jet come roaring in, touching down right at the end of the runway a mere 40 or 50 feet from the water's edge. OK - so it might be a little tight with a mast bigger than 9 feet!!!!

The next set of markers took us a mile or so farther down the channel to a bend that hid our long-awaited, protected, quiet anchorage. Surely Captain Bligh once sat right here, waiting for his breadfruit plants to mature before heading back to England (See: The Bounty , Anthony Hopkins, Mel Gibson)? As we round the corner to Maeva Beach we saw a hotel with a couple dozen bungalows on stilts over the water. Very nice. However, the next thing we saw was a forest of sailboat masts thicker than anything we have seen since Zijuatenejo , Mexico . Before we could even close our mouths, there were two jet skis buzzing by us followed by several fishing boats, a dive boat, and minutes later a power boat pulling a boogie boarder. Almost every boat we have either met or heard of was here! YIKES!!!!! Most are waiting for parts, mail, guests, repairs or just plain letting their butts recover from over 4000 miles of sailing. And about a dozen were quick to radio us with hoary tales of the fifty-knot winds that wrought havoc with the fleet a few days before. Welcome to Tahiti ! Oh, well, that's cruising!

Shortly after getting the hook down, a friend picked me up to check out the shore-side facilities: Nice fuel dock. In the Caribbean it would have been an average dock, but in Polynesia , it is an outstanding dock. Not only do they have fuel and oil, but they have cold beer. You can have your choice, 1 qt. of 2 cycle oil or one can of Heineken, each $10.00! Hard decision, but it was 9:30 AM , and I could not remember having had breakfast. That and only having $5.00 in my pocket made the decision fairly easy. There is also a small Cafe conveniently on site, but a short survey of cruisers around the dock indicated that none of us can afford to eat there!

We have 48 hours to check in, which involves a $1.30 ride (that's $130 Pacific Francs for those of you that are keeping track of the world exchange rates) into downtown Papeete aboard Tahiti 's infamous Le Trucks, a "le Truck" being a "bus" with five-foot headroom plopped on chassis. The largest grocery store in Tahiti is said to be in a mall right up the street from the dingy dock here, so I am sure we will hit it ASAP. Rumor has it they have both fruit AND vegetables, and baguettes available any time of the day! The Admiral will be in seventh heaven!

Did I say "mall"? Yup, Papeete is a hustling and bustling city with all the stores, shops, tourist traps and restaurants that you can imagine. There is noise, traffic and even pollution judging from our itchy eyes. They also have the big city crime problems. Downtown Papeete once was known for its Med-moor slips right along the downtown waterfront, but we did not stop there because some twenty-five boats have already been robbed this season. I'm very much afraid several decades, if not centuries, of missionaries, thousands of cruise ships and millions of tourists have made Tahiti a much different place than we have all dreamed about. And most of the local women I have seen so far, in my opinion, look much, much better with their tops ON. I'm going to watch the Bounty again tonight, because I truly think we might be in the wrong place.

Just one Captain, with the binoculars still on the beach.

Papeete , Tahiti


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